[Rule] Whither RULE?

C David Rigby c.david.rigby at gmail.com
Thu Aug 23 14:27:14 EEST 2007

Greetings to one & all,

I'm going to throw my $0.02 into the conversation, for what it is worth. A
bit long for an email, perhaps, so I apologize in advance if it is a bit
long-winded. Errors and misconceptions are my own, and I'm happy to have
them corrected by others.

6+ months ago Marco and I started reworking the original site's content and
posting it on the current site running as a Drupal installation on the Athen
LUG's server. We both ended up devoting our time to other more demanding
activities, and we made little progress. In my case the situation was rather
acute, since gainful employment in my new home, Singapore, involved 4 hours
of commuting per day, on top of the usual work week. Singapore is a
wonderful place, but I've also been plagued for months on end with recurrent
illness. From conversations with other expats and Singaporeans, I realize
that many Westerners, newly arrived in Asia, suffer from this sort of thing
for a year or two. As well, my "country boy" upbringing just did not equip
me to cope with the polluted urban environments I've lived in for the last
five years or so.

So, I have retreated from Asia for a few months to recover and to allow the
seasonal peak in air pollution to pass. This writing finds me in San Martino
di Lupari PD, Veneto, Italy. He I will remain until mid-November, a guest of
my parents-in-law. I do have some activities planned (semi-rigorous study of
Italian and Java are at the top of the list). The critical thing I can offer
from now until approximately the end of Sept, though, is time and the
remnants of my once extensive museum of ancient computer hardware.

I would like to make some observations and suggestions.


Historically, the goal of our project has had two primary facets:

   1. Support older hardware rendered obsolete by the "creeping
   featuritis" or bloat of most recent distributions
   2. Use components from an existing distribution, Fedora in our case,
   rather than create yet another distro from the sources

As others have remarked, keeping up with the pace of Fedora's development
schedule is difficult. Also, as we have noted time and again, Redhat's focus
is on commercial systems, desktop and server. The result is that Fedora is
continuing to demand greater and more modern hardware resources than our
target platform. Tracking Fedora, we can only fall further and further
behind, and continually expend still greater effort to build a functional
system based on that distro.

For our target platform, numerous low-resource distros exist and are
actively maintained, though some are more developed than others. Examples
include http://damnsmalllinux.org/ and http://fluxbuntu.org/. Also, For what
it's worth, http://www.netbsd.org/ provides an up-to-date, actively
maintained non-Linux, BSD-derived OS that is the epitome of performance on
low-end systems. As well, it will happily run on your old Macintosh Quadra
or SUN IPX (I've done both).

We were also pretty excited at one point about the idea of recycled
computers being useful in developing countries. Ingo & friends did a great
job with Vum:box
for example. However, many developing countries are becoming resistant to
the importation of older computer hardware. Indonesia, for example, recently
prohibited the importation of ALL used equipment from Singapore, regardless
of its specs. These countries are struggling with policing and corruption
issues that we here in the West have better control over. Whether as a
charity or as a "business opportunity in resource recovery", these countries
perceive, quite rightly in many cases, that this is actually a means for
dumping toxic wastes in their country by rich western nations striving to be
"green" at home. Vum:box shows that it works if an organization has the will
and resources to provide the support, including onsite, by dedicated human
beings. Too many poisoned villages in China show the result of unregulated
"ship and forget" recycling activities.

As well, I've got this old IBM PC 365 sitting here in a steel case that is
thick enough to stop a bullet (and I've certainly wanted to test that theory
on more than one occasion over the years! (8->). Should I use it? It seems a
waste to discard it - it still works. But taking the longer view, I realize
that it uses three times the electric power of the modern laptop I'm using
to write this email, and provides a fraction of the computing power. At what
point are the savings in resources from continued usage offset by its
inefficiency? Am I going to forgo getting a newer system when I can keep
this one working? Easy answer: no. Responsible recycling makes more sense,
ethically and practically, than to keep using it as a low-end server and
hide the noisy beast in a closet like I did in Paris.

In response to some remarks from Richard and James, I note that:

   1. Debian can still be installed from floppy diskette. I just
   installed the latest version on my ancient dual PII-333 system (which we
   used for a while to host some RULE-project files - that was some years ago).
   It required three floppies - boot.img, root.img and net-drivers-1.img.
   2. Slackware has dropped official support for floppy installation, as
   of the current version 12.

Finally I ask a question:

Franz, are you continuing development of slinky at this point? I note that
your last post on your slinky site is from a year ago.


OK: the obvious one, which is the reality check: RULE/slinky has outlived
its usefulness on all fronts, and should be retired. NOTE: this is the point
where everyone is supposed to vehemently insist that I am quite mistaken.

The RULE/slinky project IS functionally dead if there is no one to continue
development of slinky in some form. That does not mean that RULE is dead,
though. How so? Well, as much as RULE has been about slinky in the past,
there is no reason to constrain ourselves to just slinky.

Ways forward (and I am open to other suggestions):

   1. Regardless of the future of slinky, RULE as clearing house for
   information on using FOSS operating systems on older hardware still makes a
   lot of sense. Because, despite what I said earlier about efficiency versus
   continued use, there remains plenty of operational old hardware out there,
   and a lot of it is still being used. Worse, a lot of it is
   Internet-connected and running old, corrupted, bootlegged, unsupported
   versions of trojan, worm and virus infested Windows. If we can help get even
   a fraction of that installed base of diseased systems off the Internet, or
   help to cure them, so much the better!
   2. Relax our goals. We can continue to develop slinky for Fedora, but
   we should abandon the goal of supporting any hardware that does not at least
   meet the CPU minimums of Fedora. To my mind, that means P-II or better CPU.
   RAM is negotiable, but requiring 128 MB or better would not be unreasonable.
   This assumes that someone can continue slinky development.
   3. Change our goals for slinky. Make it truly an alternate installer
   to Anaconda that has as it's goal an installation of Fedora that is even
   more minimal than the standard minimal Fedora installation. Or simply a
   lighter-weight installer for a full Fedora installation, which would look a
   lot like the Fedora Core floppy project described at
   4. Focus on a different distribution. I think Richard is right on the
   money with his remarks on Debian. For example, Debian still supports i386,
   and the installer will run in 48MB of RAM (see this link:
   http://www.debian.org/releases/stable/i386/ch02s05.html.en). My basic
   installation on the IBM PC 365 required about 480MB for the filesystem plus
   swap space. So, the 500 MB minimum shown on this page seems correct. A link
   on that page leads to a fuller discussion of the issue. I suppose it could
   be argued that Debian's attention to low-end systems means that it does not
   really need much trimming, but if we relax Debian's policy requirements, we
   could produce a lighter system.

Other suggestions:

With regard to the website, I would be happy to continue with the task of
reinstalling the historic material. I think Chris is right though - this is
the lowest priority activity, if our goal is to revitalize the RULE. If we
decide, collectively, that having the material from the SPIP site and
earlier available to us is important, I suggest to Marco that we activate
and give ourselves access to the Book module of Drupal.  Eventually we will
have a book of the historic site. In the interim, make the raw tarball of
prior content available for download.

Starting a Drupal Book about slinky is also a good idea. We can build it
collaboratively, and a Drupal Book can be exported to Docbook, from which
conversion to straight XHTML, PDF and so forth makes republishing it in
other formats easier.

Marco, please consider making comments and other contribution formats
(Blogs, for example) available to register users. A forum would be useful as
well. All of these interactive forms of contribution help to build a
community once people find it easy to contribute. I suggest three tiers of
user privilege as a start: yourself as Administrator, trusted managers that
can manage content and remove offensive/off topic material, and registered
contributors that have as much access as you can possibly tolerate.

For the near term, at least, you can count on my help in policing for
inappropriate content and helping with setup. Obviously, do not make
yourself crazy with over work. If you're too busy, you're too busy. As well,
I will eventually return to the hectic megapolis lifestyle, at which point
my available time for contribution will be greatly diminished.

I am also willing to take a look at updating slinky for Fedora 7 if Franz is
unable to continue. I have the Fedora 7 iso available, though I have not yet
committed it to DVD+R. With the new laptop computer and the old desktop
systems here, I've got a good testing environment. (Maybe too good - the
laptop is REALLY new, and even the Ubuntu alpha for Gutsy Gibbon, the next
release, cannot cope with the sound card.) I doubt I could get it ready in
time for the conference in Crete that Richard mentioned, which is two weeks

Future work on slinky or other installation tools would be helped by a
collaborative development environment such as CVS or Subversion. I do not
know much about these things, admittedly, but I'm happy to learn. Richard,
would Athens LUG be willing to host such resources?

Anyway, those are my admittedly extensive thoughts on various topics.
Possibly more than two cents worth. I look forward to more discussion!

Kindest Regards,
C David Rigby
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